ACT: 23% are ready for college

Only 23 percent of ACT-taking high school seniors tested at the college-ready level in all four subjects, concludes the latest report on the class of ’09.

While 67 percent of the test-takers in the class of 2009 met college-ready benchmarks in English and 53 percent did so in reading, only 42 percent did so in math and 28 percent did so in science, according to the test results.

Based on ACT’s research, students who meet college readiness benchmarks have at least a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in first-year, non-remedial courses.

Seventy percent of the test-takers said they had taken a core curriculum: four years of English and at least three years each of natural science, social science and math.

In the past, only students applying to selective colleges took the ACT or SAT.  Now, five states require all juniors to take a college admissions exam in the hopes of encouraging college aspirations. That tends to depress scores by including less-capable students, notes College Puzzle. So perhaps it’s not surprising that college-readiness scores have remain flat since 2005.

Update: Guestblogging on Eduwonk, Michael Goldstein complains that we have the worst of all college-prep options.

1. The top one would be vast numbers of 18-year-olds legitimately prepared for college, which I think is a key driver of the Gates Foundation mission.

2. The middle option is at least honest — and common in certain countries.  Many who won’t end up with college degrees are steered during high school to some sort of vocational training.

3. Our system tells lots of 9th graders they’ll be taking classes to prepare them for college, knowing statistically that, except in some suburban and private schools, the majority of those 9th graders will never graduate from college.

Only about half of students who start college complete a four-year degree within six years. The quit rate is highest in the first year.

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Comments

  1. Obviously, we aren’t spending enough on education!

  2. Remember that the ACT timing is absolutely brutal. There really needs to be more attention paid to this, if they are going to come out every year wailing doom and gloom about the state of US education.

    The English test gives nine minutes per passage, which is totally appropriate. The Reading section gives far less. The Math section actually sees decent performance, but the stated college standard is very high, relative to the others.

    Finally, the science section is not only too aggressive time-wise, but many students don’t understand that you don’t need to know any science in order to take the test. It’s just data interpretation. A little bit of test prep does wonders.

  3. “Remember that the ACT timing is absolutely brutal.”

    Does the ACT measure aptitude or subject knowledge?

  4. Compared to the SAT, which was designed as an aptitude test, ACT has a reputation for testing mastery of subject matter.

  5. Subject matter, which is why it can be prepped. The time pressure is deliberate.

  6. tim-10-ber says:

    Based on my experience both tests can be prepped…

  7. “Compared to the SAT, which was designed as an aptitude test, ACT has a reputation for testing mastery of subject matter.”

    “Subject matter, which is why it can be prepped. The time pressure is deliberate.”

    Thanks, I didn’t know that.

    I’d prefer an aptitude test on the grounds that you can learn what you need in college, but…

  8. Ragnarok – if you can learn what you need in college, what’s the point of primary and secondary education? Why not just skip them and go straight to college at age 5?

  9. “Why not just skip them and go straight to college at age 5?”

    My thought was that you need to separate out the kids who have the current subject matter, but not the ability, from the opposite. The dividing line isn’t clear, though, which is why I finished with “but…”

    This breaks down at the extremes, but in general I’d favour ability + motivation over subject matter.

  10. Mark Roulo says:

    This breaks down at the extremes, but in general I’d favour ability + motivation over subject matter.

    Unless the student with the high aptitude score and the low subject matter score was at a school that did not offer the subject matter, high aptitude with the low subject matter suggests ability + *LACK* of motivation.

    If the kid was so very motivated, why didn’t he/she learn the subject matter?

    Ideally, one would select students who have both.

    The top choice schools can do this.

    The bottom tier schools get the students who have neither.

    The mid-tier schools are the ones who get to decide (to a point) what tradeoff of “lack of ability” and “lack of motivation” they want.

    -Mark Roulo

  11. “…was at a school that did not offer the subject matter…”

    Or didn’t teach it well, or the subject matter test wasn’t very good, or the motivation was recent….

  12. My thought was that you need to separate out the kids who have the current subject matter, but not the ability, from the opposite.

    Why do you want to separate out the ones who have the ability but not the current subject matter? I mean, if you don’t have the needed subject matter to succeed at college how can you succeed at college?

    As for people who have somehow learnt the current subject matter, how many of them couldn’t succeed at college? And are we remotely capable of identifying those people ahead of time?

  13. “I mean, if you don’t have the needed subject matter to succeed at college how can you succeed at college?”

    Not quite sure what you mean, but here goes:

    If you have the aptitude and the subject matter, there’s no problem.

    If you have the aptitude but not the subject matter, but are keen to learn, you may very well succeed. Absent the motivation, no.

    If you don’t have the aptitude, but have the subject matter, you’re likely to fail. What you learn at college should be conceptually quite a bit more difficult that what you learnt at school.

    Neither aptitude nor subject matter? Well…

  14. Sorry, forgot this:

    “And are we remotely capable of identifying those people ahead of time?”

    I believe that’s what aptitude tests do.

  15. The ACT doesn’t test much more subject matter than the SAT. They both test exactly the same grammar and English rhetoric skills. They test about the same math–the ACT tests right triangle trig consistently, and will occasionally throw in a matrix or ellipse question. But those are rare.

    The reading and science passages have everything you need right there on the page, so they aren’t testing subject matter at all.

    The ACT is an achievement test rather than an aptitude test in this sense: it asks what it wants to know in a very straightforward fashion. The SAT asks in a roundabout way–that’s a good deal of the difficulty level in the SAT. Other than that, there’s almost no difference in content.

  16. Which is more like the GRE (verbal and quant, not the subject)? I’ve never taken either the SAT or the ACT, but the GRE was a lot of fun.

  17. If you have the aptitude but not the subject matter, but are keen to learn, you may very well succeed.

    How? I mean, if you can’t do arithmetic, and you can’t read, and whatever other skill sets American colleges expect you to come in with, how will you learn it at college?
    And again, if kids can learn everything they need to know at college, why bother with primary and secondary school? Why not just dispatch the 6 year olds off there in the first place and save over a decade?

    And do aptitude tests actually identify those people who have learnt the subject material but haaven’t learnt the test? I am prepared to believe that they are intended to do this, but what is the reason that you believe that they actually do this?

    And do you have any figures on the number of people who have the subject matter but not the aptitude?

  18. Which is more like the GRE (verbal and quant, not the subject)?

    At this point, neither. The GRE was very much like the original SAT. But the SAT has morphed as political winds demanded. The GRE didn’t have to. So the GRE is basically a vocabulary test with some reading, and a math test that is difficult, but requires relatively little math.

    Only 2% of GRE takers score higher than 700 in Verbal, whereas 4-6% of testers score 800 in Quant.

  19. Thank you, Cal.

    “Only 2% of GRE takers score higher than 700 in Verbal, whereas 4-6% of testers score 800 in Quant.”

    If I remember correctly, this is true for the GRE after the early ’90s. Something seems to have changed at that point, because some societies such as Triple Nine and iQuadrivium would accept GRE V+Q scores until the early ’90s, but not after that.

    Still, what I remember is that it was a lot of fun. I’d never seen a test like it before, which got right to the point and didn’t require a lot of empty writing.

  20. “How? I mean, if you can’t do arithmetic, and you can’t read, and whatever other skill sets American colleges expect you to come in with, how will you learn it at college?”

    Tracy, I think you’re taking this rather too literally. This isn’t an all-or-nothing case in which you either know all the arithmetic the college expects, or you know none. You might be a month behind, or a year; perhaps your teacher, a scion of a prominent Ed school, didn’t know enough math; perhaps your mother was busy partying with her boyfriend and left you to take care of her other kids – who the devil knows?

    The point is that I think if you have the ability and the desire, you can make up for a lot of weakness in subject matter.

    Disagree? Quite all right.

    “Why not just dispatch the 6 year olds off there in the first place and save over a decade? “

    This is just silly. Figure it out for yourself.

    “I am prepared to believe that they are intended to do this, but what is the reason that you believe that they actually do this? “

    Nice try. I believe this because Lasciel revealed it to me.

  21. Raganorak, I didn’t mention that it wasn’t an all or nothing matter but it doesn’t make any difference to my argument.

    And what’s silly about saving ten years, if you don’t actually need to learn anything at primary or secondary school? I think it’s silly to spend years doing something if it can be done far faster.

    And why do you believe Lasciel?

    Your line of argument really baffles me here. Do you think kids should just skip past primary and secondary school and go straight to college, or not?

  22. Raganorak, I didn’t mention that it wasn’t an all or nothing matter for simplicity’s sake but it doesn’t make any difference to my argument. If you can catch up from being a year behind at college, why not set the college exam to be easier and everyone leaves for college a year earlier? (A month is probably not enough to worry about).

    And how is it quite all right if I disagree? The primary and secondary education systems are to a large extent funded by taxpayers money, the question of how valuable this is is not a trival question. Why aren’t you interested in whether or not you are right?

    What strikes me as silly is spending extra years at primary or secondary school when they’re not needed.

    As for your believing Lasciel, why do you believe him, or her? How did this Lasciel person reveal this information to you? What evidence did they produce to support the success of aptitude tests at distinguishing those who learnt the subject material but can’t succeed at university?